Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Using Seminars to Introduce Small Group Teaching into Large Classes
Originator Nick Henry
Department School of Geography, University of Birmingham, B15 2TT
Tel. +44 (0)121 414 7262
Fax. +44 (0)121 414 5528

The aim of the innovation is to introduce seminars into a large second-year class (80-90 students). Seminars are a highly effective method for producing students who are undertaking higher levels of independent study, actively using their intellect, and learning to debate and discuss as a prerequisite for situations they will experience in employment and their social lives more widely. This 'innovation' is driven by increasing student numbers, with large classes the norm until the third year when significant amounts of teaching are undertaken within a seminar format.

Within the module, nine weeks of a series of 2 x 1-hour lectures/videos are followed by Week 10 when the second one hour slot is given over to an 'Introduction to Seminar'. In Week 11, students attend one hour-long seminar rather than the usual two-hour lecture slot.

Prior to the Introduction to Seminar, a double-sided A4 hand-out is created which explains how the seminars are organised and lists group members (8-9 per group), times and locations of their seminars. Each seminar group is provided with shared copies of 'readings'. No student is assigned to present but all are expected to do the reading. Seminars are run as open discussions 'chaired' by a staff member. In each seminar group, the third person listed is marked by an *, those marked in this way are assigned as 'rapporteurs'. Rapporteurs are not expected to read the article but have to produce a short list of points discussed from the seminar. Each rapporteur's list is photocopied and becomes a hand-out for all students the following week.

This is not a short-cut in terms of teaching resources. Student participation is voluntary with, on average, over 90% attending. Most feedback sheets appear. After initial consternation, students rate these seminars highly and request that more be offered.


Independent study
Large student numbers
Small group teaching

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